Captain's Decision to Keep Fishing Despite Flooding Led to Sinking
The National Transportation Safety Board has released a Marine Accident Brief about the flooding and sinking of the commercial fishing vessel Pacific 1 on February 15, 2019, as it was engaged in cod fishing in the Bering Sea near Kashega Bay, Unalaska Island, Alaska.
The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the sinking was the captain’s decision to remain at sea with continuous flooding in the lazarette from an undetermined source, which accelerated and eventually led to the sinking of the vessel. The vessel was considered a total constructive loss valued at an estimated $720,000.
According to the captain and engineer, the vessel had a tendency to list slightly to starboard due to the weight and location of the pot launcher and placement of bait within the bait hold on the starboard side, which they would even out with the consumption of fuel oil. There was no seawater ballast available on board to correct the list.
The deckhands stated that on the afternoon of February 12, when they were loading the last string of pots for the day, they noticed about a foot of water on the aft main deck that was not clearing as they worked, as well as an increasing list to starboard. The engineer stated the vessel was “heeled over pretty good…it was at least a 20-degree list” to starboard due to water entering the lazarette, the aftermost space in the hull, which could only be accessed by a bolted down, square hatch cover and contained the rudder post and steering gear.
The captain elected to keep fishing over the next few days after the identified bilge suction valve leak was being managed by the engineer. Two days later, on February 15, about 0330, the captain and engineer noticed the vessel had a slight list to starboard and water on the aft deck. The captain attempted to clear the standing water on the main deck starboard quarter by turning hard to the opposite side and increasing the engine throttle. At approximately the same time, he noticed in the wheelhouse that his rudder indicator was not responding and was displaying an error signal.
The engineer was in the engine space trying to determine which space was filling with water. He told the captain that he believed seawater was entering the lazarette from an unknown location (he later told investigators that he believed the space was completely filled with seawater).
While the lazarette was flooding, there was no audio or visual bilge alarm reported by the captain or engineer. After discussion with the engineer, the captain made the decision to proceed to the closest safe refuge. The engineer aligned the bilge and emergency pumps to de-water the lazarette but could not keep up with the flooding.
After about 20 minutes, he noticed water entering the engine room via a two-inch electrical conduit pipe that ran through the top of the bulkhead between the engine space and the lazarette. He told investigators that it started to enter the engine space “like turning on a fire hose.”
The engineer went topside to alert the captain and instructed the deckhands to put on their survival suits. Since there was no suitable area to ground the Pacific 1, the captain proceeded to anchor the vessel. He notified vessels in the area and the U.S. Coast Guard of the situation. All five crewmembers were rescued.
The report is available here.